As the freeway winds its way out of Istanbul’s European part, large signs point to the exit for Edirne/Bugaristan. For Istanbul commuters, this is more than a road sign. It signifies a powerful fact. A two-hour drive on the freeway, built for the Americans to fight the Soviets, takes you to the border with Bulgaria, where the European Union begins. This is where Mr Erdogan’s Sultanistic rule, propped by a system of captured institutions, ends.
Or is supposed to.
As news media reported, “Bulgaria has recently returned to Turkey at least six people who allegedly are related to the network of preacher Fetullah Gulen, considered by Ankara a terrorist organisation. The return reportedly took place on Saturday (15 October). The Gulenists have reportedly been found in a truck by the Bulgarian border police in Ruse, a city at the border with Romania, where they had attempted to cross. All of them claimed asylum and were told that they will be taken a refugee centre in Sofia. However, the vehicle took a different direction and went to Harmanli (near the Turkish border). After checking in the refugee centre in Harmanli at midnight, six of the seven Turkish citizens were taken out of the camp and handed over to Turkish authorities.”
A battle rages on in Europe. Midnight renditions of a handful of Turkish citizens, handed over to the Turkish authorities by their Bulgarian counterparts, may not seem like big or important frontline in that war. It is one. Turks have fled the July 15 failed coup attempt in droves, to avoid harsh and inhuman treatment. A fellow Turkish academic shared: everybody, AKP supporters and pro-Western Turks, hate “those (coup) guys.” Mr Erdogan has basked in the hysteria he helped fawn. Whether the Guenists are guilty or not, and of what, is beside the point. In Mr Erdogan’s Turkey, no regime opponent can hope for a fair trial.
In this, and at least three previous renditions of this sort, Bulgaria has violated just about every human rights treaty the country is a party to. By not bringing the asylum claimants to a judge, Bulgaria has violated the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention, the EU’s Asylum Directive, the European Councils 1953 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
There is political expediency, purportedly driving the Bulgarian government’s actions. Mr Erdogan is both powerful and grumpy. Angering him will have consequences.
Not angering Mr Erdogan is infinitely worse. The likes of Mr Erdogan interpret collaboration as validation that their way will prevail. They thrive on weakness. They pounce even bolder. When dictators run wild, how the international community responds matters. The world saved the 30,000 Chilean opposition members from torture at the hands of Pinochet. Today, Chile is a thriving democracy.
Turks today look to the rest of the world to see whether there is another way of doing things, an alternative to Mr Erdogan’s lawless ways.
To their credit, other countries have abided by their obligations. Greece and Germany are two countries where Turks have claimed asylum. The cases of those individuals are going in front of a court of law.
The behavior of the Bulgarian government should be investigated as it shows no willingness to investigate itself. The UN should speak to condemn such renditions, demand that those responsible be punished, and obtain guarantees that Bulgaria will stick to its commitments in the future.
Professor of Political Science
Letter sent to:
Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship
Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais Wilson 52, rue des Paquis
CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland
Commissioner for Human Rights
Council of Europe
67075 Strasbourg Cedex
EP Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
Bat. Altiero Spinelli
60 rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60
B-1047 - Bruxelles/Brussels